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Do Gay Workers Have Equal Right? Companies Refuse to Answer

in ISRAEL, 15/12/2010

When an employee gets married, she usually receives a vacation and a gift; sometimes her spouse is allowed to drive the company car. This isn't always the case for gay couples. The National Association of GLBT in Israel has established a workplace equality index.

We've been a couple for many years, officially I'm registered as single, I've never asked for anything; not for sick leave because of my spouse's illness, not for sales for my spouse. I've never demanded anything. If these things were obvious, I wouldn't need to,” told ynet D', a homosexual in a relationship who has children, who works in a large company. He's not alone.

 

In many companies, gay couples are not entitled to benefits, that the spouses of the “straight” employees get. Even if they get married overseas, because lack of options to get married in Israel, they don't always get the customary gift from the company, or vacation days by law. Sometimes it's a result of lack of acceptance, but it is also caused by lack of awareness.

For instance, a lesbian employee who wishes to bring her spouse to the company vacation, will avoid doing so, because they don't have a marriage certificate, or because it “isn't customary”. That is one of the reasons that in April this year, The National Association of GLBT in Israel contacted sixty six leading companies in the business sector in order to establish “The Workplace Diversity and Equality Index”.

Only 23% of the Companies Responded

Since discrimination on grounds of sexual differences is not as distinct as discrimination based on race or gender, the questions in the index examined if in order to get equal benefits, a marriage certificate is requested, or if a declaration is enough; do gay spouses get benefits such as permission to drive the company car, is there recognition of gay couples' children as children of joint custody, and if the option of bringing gay spouses to company events is mentioned, even if it might “irritate” some of the other employees; and generally, if the criteria allow gay couples to get the same benefits and conditions as heterosexuals. Only 23% of the companies answered the questioner, approximately. As for the rest of the companies – some didn't reply at all, and some stated in reply that they do not intend to answer the questioner.

It is not surprising, that in most of the companies that did answer the questioner, there is acceptance of sexual difference. In two thirds of them, an employee's declaration if enough in order to register their spouse, without connection to his or her gender. The remaining third request a notary certificate or a marriage certificate (which, of course, is impossible for same sex couples in Israel to receive).

In addition, most of the companies that answered the questioner stated that the criteria for getting benefits are identical for same sex couples and heterosexual couples.

Of course, this isn't the situation in many companies. “We got married in Canada, because there is no option of the sort in Israel. I updated the relevant people in human resources. I got congratulated, but did not receive a formal congratulations card, a check, or a vacation day – as straight couple do. It shouldn't be that way – my partner, who works at a law firm, got a check and a vacation day, like any other married employee. I don't think the discrimination was deliberate, but the lack of awareness and understanding that lesbian and gay couples have relationships – harms the equality”, said R', a newly wed employee in a large company.

The Index – A Step in the Right Direction

For now, the salvation won't come from the index: even though there was an intention to create a rating that distinguishes companies by the equality rate, a researcher on behalf of The National Association of GLBT in Israel (The Aguda), Miron Avidan, explained that because of the low participation, a rating of the sort will be pointless. Yet, the fact there is an index, The Aguda says, is definitely a step in the right direction.

The chairman of the Aguda, Mike Hamel, seems optimistic: “We predict the awareness will grow, and the topic will seep into managements and human resource departments everywhere. For comparison, the amount of participants in “Maala Index” (which rates corporate responsibility) almost doubled in seven years, and we initially contacted a smaller amount of companies.

Did you ask yourselves if an index of the sort could hurt the integration of the GLBT workers in the company – and separate them from the other employees?

“The differentiation already exists, and the index helps reduce it. For instance, when a worker hears the company's vacation overseas includes spouses, but isn't sure if she can bring her unmarried spouse – there should be a place to turn to with this issue, and a clear answer, both in the company's documents, and in the actual implementation.
Hamel says, equal criteria usually discriminate, because a marriage certificate is required. “The seemingly equal approach, ignores the actual problem. We expect a statement from the company, telling the workers they can bring same sex spouses”.

But in difference of discrimination of mothers, or discrimination based on ethnic origin or religion – it usually isn't possible to know the employee or candidate's sexual orientation. Is the discrimination really so bad?

Hamel says, that this sort of discrimination is even more problematic since the matter is easily ignored (because lack of knowledge of the employee's sexual orientation), and creates an expectation that the employee will stay in the closet. “The workplace is part of the employee's fabric of life – so for instance the employee's relationship status, which doesn't always consist with the norm, is very relevant to the workplace – for example, an unmarried worker who lives with his spouse, and wants to know where his spouse stands in the aspect of benefits he deserves”.

“Forgotten” Community

Hamel mentions a “forgotten” population within the GLBT community: transgenders suffer acute discrimination. This discrimination is very noticeable when trying to get hired, an issue that is very problematic for many young transgenders, who are forced to earn a living in the sex industry, from lack of alternatives; there is discrimination when an employee decides to undergo a sex reassignment surgery; and of course, there is discrimination from the fact there is a lot of ignorance about the subject, and lack of awareness of the special needs of transgender employees.
From their answers, it seems sometimes the companies don't know how to treat the subject of spouses – when a couple is considered “married” and when not, if there should be a legal document, etc: isn't it the legislator’s responsibility to make these decisions, and not leave the subject open for interpretation?

“The answer unequivocally is yes. The subject is ignored not only in the workplace, but also by the legislator, and in many cases the discrimination is emphasized and created by the legislator. The first and main case of ignoring the GLBT community, is in the subject of matrimonial law, that was passed from the legislator to the religious establishments, and specifically for Jewish people – the Orthodox establishment, that is currently held by the Ultra Orthodox faction. In the main part of every person's life – the Israeli legislator prevents same-sex couples to institutionalize their relationship, and by that automatically receive the same benefits that marriage enables.

Laws against discrimination – in workplaces, in the receiving services, an so on – mention sexual orientation as a forbidden cause to discriminate, and the supreme court recognizes same-sex relationships, but on the other hand, other laws define a relationship as one between a man and a woman, and exclude the GLBT community. The legislator has two different voices, and should fix this issue.


Don't all of these discussions create something out nothing? For instance there are many members of the gay community in the media, actors, models, and other celebrities.

There is a big difference between the representation in the media, and what actually goes on. There is no connection between the stars of channel 2, and the tens of thousands of people who work at offices, stores, companies, banks, etc. Many of these people are “in the closet”, at best. In worse cases, they may encounter a workplace that isn't progressive, and suffer discrimination and harassment because of their sexual orientation, and not get the benefits they deserve. The difference is, these everyday difficulties don't have ratings.

Dealt Seriously with the Questioner

 

Intel, Osem, Bank Leumi, Tower Semiconductor, Baran Group, Strauss Group, Motorola Israel, Applied Materials Israel, Carmel Olefins, Netafim, IBI Investment House, the Cable Company HOT, Psagot Investment House, and Google Israel. It isn't surprising that these companies' replies about the rights GLBT workers have, compared to their colleagues' rights, showed there is a high level of equality.


Didn't answer the questioner:

Besides mentioning the companies that answered the questioner, the Aguda mentioned the following companies who didn't answer the questioner. Elbit Systems, Elron, Teva, Isrotel, Mey Eden, Nice, Partner, HP, Microsoft Israel, CBC Group (Coca Cola), Derech Eretz, Soglowek, Ness Technologies, Bank HaPoalim, Manpower, Cellcom, Phoenix, Harel Insurance and Finance, Industrial Buildings Corporation, Makhteshim Agan Industries, Paz, Smile 012, Excellence Investments, Union Bank, Delek, Clal Group, Plasson, and more. Note some of the companies we contacted for a reply, said they'll consider participating in the index next year.

Is it possible that most of the companies didn't answer the questioner because it fell between the cracks? Avidan, who is in charge of this research, says the answer is definitely no: “All of the companies got the questioner by mail, with the CEO and the Human Resources Manager as the recipients. In the case we knew who the person who deals with social matters is – we sent it to him too. None of the letters was returned to us due to a wrong address, or an unknown recipient.

"If We'll Want to Participate – We'll Let You Know”

“About a week after sending the letters, we called all of the management offices of the companies, or spoke with the relevant person or his secretary – and if we were told they didn't know what the inquiry was about, we sent the letter again. Of course, some of the replies we got were “if we'll want to participate – we'll let you know”.


So what are the reasons that companies are willing to participate in Maala's Corporate Responsibility Index, for instance, but not in the GLBT equality Index?

Hamel says, the situation will change, since there are developments in the perception of the concept “corporate responsibility”, and during these developments there will be an understanding that it is impossible to limit the companies' actions in that area only to topics that are part of the consensus, while ignoring parts of the populations that aren't part of the consensus.
Hamel also mentions the fear companies have to aggravate some sectors, and gives the Orthodox Sector as and example of a sector that doesn't want to deal with the GLBT subject: “That is the only sector that operates deliberately and threatens companies in Israel if they don't apply the rules the Orthodox sector dictates, for instance, Strauss' submission to the Orthodox extortion because of the Love Parade in Tel Aviv a few years ago”.


Is there really a reason to have a specific index on this subject, since it is possible to include that aspect in the Maala Index, which dozens of companies participate in, and are rated by their level of social responsibility?

Hamel says, Maala Organization was contacted, but “their reply was that the subject is not in the mainstream of subjects they handle, so it is not ready to be referenced in the ratio." Hamel is also very unhappy with the aspect corporate social responsibility gets: "The fact that Corporate Social Responsibility in most companies is the responsibility of the Marketing and Public Relations departments, shows most of the companies in Israel did not recognize that social responsibility is not a marketing tool, but an important, independent field, that should be free of profit considerations.

Maala: Waiting For Data from the Aguda

Maala representatives claim that although discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation is not part of the criteria in their index, they considered a meeting with representatives of The Aguda; they say the process came to a halt after their request for data on discrimination or problems in employing GLBTs, in a way that can teach of the problematic areas (in reception, in integration in the workplace, in rights for spouses), did not get a response. "Until now, we did not receive an answer to our request (from the Aguda), and we'll be glad to coordinate a meeting soon," Maala said, "we invite the Aguda and other responsible bodies to continue the discussion on the subject".

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